Clay County man says school library books he's challenging are 'damaging souls'

Zoey Fields

A Middleburg man says he is primarily responsible for the removal of 288 library books from Clay County’s school shelves and is working to remove more.

Bruce Friedman, the father of a high school student and Florida State Chapter president of No Left Turn in Education organization, says books he has challenged account for about 92 percent of Clay County’s challenged library books.
Bruce Friedman speaking at a Clay County school board meeting.Photo byClay County District Schools

Under current school policy, the 288 books are pulled from the shelves once they are challenged by a district resident. The books then go through a review process and are either removed from school libraries permanently or limited to only high school or junior high libraries. The review process can take up to several months due to the backlog of challenged books, most of them attributed to Friedman.

Friedman says the books he has challenged are “damaging souls,” and refuses to stop challenges until new policy changes are made.

Friedman says he has a list of roughly 3,900 books that havebeen challenged, anywhere, for any reason,” and he spends his days reading and reviewing the books on the list.

Friedman, with the help of a number of people whom he refers to as “his associates,” checks for “obscene photographs or illustrations, pornographic content, Critical Race Theory, indecency and sloppiness” in the books’ content. All issues, he says, that would violate Florida law.

Friedman moved to Clay County from Long Island, New York, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. He was already invested in following school-related policy issues due to his frustrations with the mathematical “Common Core” concept being taught to his son while attending New York public schools, he said.

Friedman attended and graduated from high school in North Central Long Island. He did not graduate from college and, before actively focusing on No Left Turn in Education, worked in construction management. Now, however, book reviews consume his days, he said, claiming he read 100 books just in the past two months.

No Left Turn in Education is a conservative-based organization whose mission is to “revive in American education the fundamental discipline of objective thinking by educating, empowering, and engaging students, parents, and community, emphasizing the role of the parent as the primary custodian and authority of their child,” according to its webpage.

The members of the organization wish to start a chapter group in each U.S. state with the primary focus being to eliminate “politizing and indoctrinating” lessons and media in schools, and to reestablish parental rights in education, they say.

Friedman’s mission is to protect his child and all other children from “damaged souls,” he said, which he cites in each of his book challenge forms submitted to the school district.
One of Friedman's book challenge forms submitted to Clay County District Schools.Photo byBruce Friedman

Friedman’s list had 4,000 book titles on it that had been challenged elsewhere within the United States, by someone other than himself, he said. He does not intend to challenge any of the book titles without first reviewing or reading the book himself, or handing the responsibility over to another individual he trusts, he said.

“When I, or one of my associates, reads a book that has been challenged and we cannot seem to find a legitimate reason why it could not be in the hands of a child, we remove it from the list,” he said. “I am always very, very happy to clear a book from the list.”

One of the books Friedman has deemed “appropriate” for children is “14 Cows for America” by Carmen Agra Deedy. The book recounts the true story of the East African Maasai tribe gifting the U.S. 14 cows as a gesture of peace nine months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Click here to read book summaries and reviews for “14 Cows for America.”

Friedman said he does not believe there is anything in the text that could “cause harm to a child,” and, therefore, it is removed from his list of books to challenge within the Clay County school district.

When asked how he would resolve the issues over books, Friedman suggested the library and media policy of Keller Independent School District in Texas.

The Keller district has dealt with similar issues as Clay County in regard to books being challenged and removed in school libraries. They adopted a rating system that outlines what type of material is accessible to specific grade levels. For example, profanity is prohibited until children reach the 7th grade. Click here to view the Keller school district rating system for kindergarten through 6th grade. Click here to view the Keller school district rating system from grades 7 through 12.

“This is an example of a starting point for healthy discussion surrounding these books,” Friedman said. “We have trusted our librarians and given them too much oversight for too long. It should be common sense to watch over each other’s children. Now is the time to start.”

When it comes to concepts of Critical Race Theory, Friedman believes that it is best defined as “when you make somebody feel bad, one way or another, because of the color of their skin,” noting that this applies to the white, or Caucasian, race as well.

One book that he says is “in the gray zone” because of Critical Race Theory is the story “The Only Black Girls in Town” by Brandy Colbert. The book follows two 7th-grade girls who are, as the title suggests, the only two Black girls in their small town and junior high class. The story incorporates gay marriage, a surrogate mother, divorce and Black history throughout the plot as the girls discover old journals in an attic and attempt to piece together the history within them.

Friedman’s main issue with the book, he said, is that it makes white people feel guilty or shamed for the color of their skin. Referencing several passages, like one on page 30 that reads “Well, when we go to parties and bonfires, you and Dad always go up to the black people first. Sometimes you spend almost the whole night talking to them. Or if you see black people you don’t even know when we’re downtown, you nod at them like you’re already friends.”

Click here to read book summaries and reviews for “The Only Black Girls in Town.”
Friedman's form challenging the book "The Only Black Girls in Town" by Brandy Colbert.Photo byBruce Friedman
Friedman's form challenging "The Only Black Girls in Town" shows his annotations and what he claims in Critical Race Theory.Photo byBruce Friedman

“This book is on my list because it doesn’t promote harmony and it is facilitating division,” Friedman said. “Have you ever heard of a ‘white nod?’ Would you ever nod at another white person just because they’re the only other one in the room? Why are we teaching black children the ‘black nod?’ Is that not creating more division?”

Friedman has created his own webpage where he keeps a running Excel sheet of the challenged books he and his associates read and review. There are also photo attachments of his submitted challenge forms to Clay County District Schools for certain books within the spreadsheet. Click here to view Friedman’s webpage where users can download the Excel sheet totaling 3,878 book titles.

Also on his webpage, viewers can watch a recent interview Friedman did with “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins” discussing a June 30 Clay County school board meeting where he had his microphone cut while attempting to read passages from a book that included profanity.

School board attorney Bruce Bicker shut Friedman down because he was concerned about lewd content being livestreamed on the school district’s YouTube page.

The incident led to national notoriety for Friedman, who was interviewed by Fox News about Clay County’s library book dilemma and current school board policies.

One thing he remains adamant about is that his book challenges do not mean “book bans,” he said.

“There have been zero books banned whatsoever,” Friedman said. “You are welcome to buy the books on Amazon, at your local Barnes & Noble or check them out for free at the local library. Just keep them out of schools.”

Friedman says he has met with several people in administrative and media roles in the Clay County school district regarding the ongoing library book and media issues. He claims he will not stop submitting book challenges until policies prohibiting indecency are properly instilled. His team's goal, he said, is to "restore honor and integrity and accountability to public schools."

Clay County Chief Academic Officer Roger Dailey said that, historically, book challenges have always been allowed in schools. When Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1557 in March 2022, which claims to reinstate parental rights in education, book challenges reached a new level of attention.

“We believe that evaluating a challenged book for the purpose of removal needs to be done with thought and deliberation,” Dailey said. “If we didn’t have certain individuals challenging a mass amount of books, I think we could have one-on-one conversations with the people appealing these books.”

Dailey said the school district believes in the importance of having conversations about materials available to children and that the collaboration of the school system and its parents need to be “front and center.”

“We appreciate the attention of the community members, including these passionate individuals,” Dailey said. “We are working overtime, and with no extra funding from the state, to try and get this right.”

The school district’s review process is led by the District Curriculum Council—groups of parents, principals and media specialists who read the book, discuss and cast a vote on the appropriate age-level, if any, for the book.

The next round of District Curriculum Council meetings are scheduled for Feb. 28 at the Teacher In-Service Center at Fleming Island High School beginning at 9 a.m. Books scheduled for review are listed below with links to summaries and reviews.

Comments / 1

Published by

Accredited journalist with experience covering a wide range of stories consisting of breaking news, city and county government, crime and courts, feature stories and local interest. Facebook Bulletin writer, reporter; The Learning Curve. Twitter: @zoeyfields0

Jacksonville, FL

More from Zoey Fields

Comments / 0